Steve Cannon: "I wanted to be somebody"


TD Mischke on the passing of local radio legend Steve Cannon:

"I wanted to be somebody," Steve Cannon once said when talking about coming of age on the Iron Range in Eveleth, Minnesota. Life there was colorful but arduous and too often unrewarding. The depression, the war years, the possibility of spending one's career in the mines sent a young man's imagination in search of something better, something brighter.

We each define "being somebody" differently. For Steve it meant a life of consequence, being where the action was, being a player. That's what he dreamed of. His heroes were actors, jazz musicans, comedians, and radio personalities. They exsisted where the lights shone brightest, and he wanted to feel some of that glow.

If there was one dominant trait the young Iron Ranger had in spades when he left northern Minnesota it was confidence, an unwavering belief in himself. Like so many Rangers who rebelled against the notion of life in the mines, he was powerfully driven to be something more.

A lifetime later, looking back on his 81 years from his hospital bed in the dining room of his Lake of the Isles home, knowing his time was short, Steve knew he had pulled it off. He had done what he had set out to do in the late '40s. He did escape the mines, he did find the lights. He became the single most successful radio personality the state of Minnesota has ever known. He rubbed shoulders with people a young boy growing up in Eveleth would hardly expect to see in person, let alone call peers.

He had a grand life. And a sign of a grand life is how dearly you want to continue it. Steve loved living. The cancer diagnosis was a "pain in the ass" to him, he would say, because it got in the way of his appreciation of a world still so fascinating and enriching. However, another trait he possessed was the disposition of a hardened realist. If there was nothing more the doctors could do, so be it. The next step was simply to live out the remaining weeks with dignity and grace. That's how Steve Cannon's last season on earth played out. I watched it and it was beautiful. Hard, sad, frustrating, but beautiful. We all should see our last days end with that degree of aplomb. Those who witnessed it marveled at the effortless switch from the passionate desire to live to the serene, willing acceptance of death.

It was a wondrous 81-year adventure. If you know the stories of his life, so many images flash through the mind thinking back over those years: the boy on the range, toughened by hard economic times, and by growing up the lone Jewish kid in his class. The young man in a hurry heading off to the Navy, to the University of Minnesota, yearning to make his mark. The actor who thought drama would be his career before deciding his calling was in a related but alternate field. The man from the sticks who wanted the city to seep deep into his bones, with its live jazz, its theater, its glamorous restaurants and bars, and its professional sports.

No matter from what perspective you viewed him, as father, brother, husband, friend, co-worker; no matter what side of the man you dwelled upon, the entertainer, student of politics, lover of film, tennis partner, sports fan, the man was an honest-to-God original. He was his own person. Steve knew exactly who he was, and if you spent any time with him at all, you soon knew as well: a straight shooter, a man who had no time for b.s. He could be cantankerous, stubborn, and certainly a pain to negotiate with if you were a radio station manager. But take all that away and he wouldn't have been Cannon. He knew his shortcomings. He wouldn't have disagreed with you if you pointed them out. And that trait was endearing as well.

Cannon's now gone. The state of Minnesota has lost a treasure, a piece of its history; The New Yorker magazine has lost its most faithful reader; Ma Linger, Backlash LaRue, and Morgan Mundane have lost their puppet master. I've lost my buddy. They say that, as you get older, you get used to losing people. I'm not used to it yet.

On Steve's last night on this earth he rested quietly on his bed in the dining room of the beautiful home he loved, his wife and children beside him. The Twins home opener played softly nearby, and Steve's breathing continued until all nine innings were complete. Then he passed away. If you knew Steve's love for a good story, you'd know he would have smiled at this fitting setting for the close of his life's narrative.

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